A few hours ago NASA’s InSight lander was launched together with the two Mars Cube One nanosatellites from the Vandenberg base on an Atlas V 401 rocket. After about 1.5 hours they separated from the rocket’s last stage, called Centaur, and went en route to Mars.
The InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission aims to investigate the geology of the planet Mars. A lander equipped with a seismometer, a thermal sensor and other instruments that will analyze the red planet’s internal structure. This will allow to obtain new data on its formation, also contributing to the existing models on the formation of rocky planets such as the Earth.
The mission was originally proposed in 2010 under the name GEMS (Geophysical Monitoring Station) and after approval received its final name in 2012. It’s a NASA mission developed above all by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with the collaboration of some European and Japanese institutions.
Originally, the launch of the InSight mission was scheduled during the window available to travel to Mars in 2016 but following a problem with a welding of the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument provided by the French space agency CNES, NASA decided to postpone the launch so as not to risk problems.
In recent years NASA has been trying to involve the public in its activities with various initiatives such as adding a microchip to a spacecraft in which the names of people who joined are registered. In the case of the InSight mission, registrations were open in 2015 but due to the delay there was a second chance in 2017.
Together with the InSight lander, two CubeSat-class nanosatellites were launched, consisting of 6 10-cm cubic units called Mars Cube One (MarCO). These are the first nanosatellites sent out of the Earth’s orbit and will serve as a relay during the maneuvers that will lead to InSight’s landing on Mars.
The landing on Mars is scheduled for November 26, 2018 in the western part of the region called Elysium Planitia. The studies of seismic and tectonic activity, of geophysics and of meteorite impacts are crucial to obtain further information on the red planet’s geological history. The various rocky planets of the solar system formed in a similar way but evolved very differently. New information on the evolution of a planet can offer clues to that of another.